Lights, camera, action

Underworld Productions moviemaking magic


A new business in downtown Patchogue is looking to become a go-to place for filming movies, TV shows, and commercials on Long Island.

Walk into Underworld Productions’ unassuming 5,000-square-foot storefront on South Ocean Avenue, and you’ll be surprised to find more than a dozen fully furnished film sets.

Need a suburban kitchen from the 1950s, complete with teal cabinets and vintage appliances? They have one.

A 1960s motel room with shag carpeting and wood paneling? They’ve got that, too.

Sameer Butt, a New York-based filmmaker, was looking for a jail cell for a scene in a short film he’s directing. He found it at Underworld.

“It’s kind of hard to believe,” Butt said of the variety of sets Underworld offers.

Butt filmed at Underworld for three days in June and used several other sets, including a classic diner/restaurant. He’ll be returning for more filming next month.

Underworld opened in May. In the first month alone, two films and two music videos were filmed there.

Owner Ryan Sarno has been busy fielding calls from potential clients who’ve found Underworld through word of mouth, ads on Google and Facebook, and listings on film industry websites like Peerspace.

While Sarno, 29, opened the business recently, collecting all the furniture, props, and knick-knacks that make the sets look so authentic has been his passion project for the past six years.

Sarno scours Facebook Marketplace and vintage stores across Long Island, looking for finds like old rotary telephones, television sets, and vintage clothing.

Sometimes, he even travels farther, including to Philadelphia to buy four beauty parlor chairs from a salon that was going out of business.

“If it’s good enough and rare enough, I’m going to go get it,” he said.

Movie making has long been Sarno’s calling.

He grew up in Mt. Sinai, where he and his friends would make movies. Sarno and his grandmother would watch the classic film “The Wizard of Oz.” He said part of his inspiration for starting Underworld was wanting to create “the beautiful cinematic world” the film depicts.

Sarno graduated with a degree in film from Hofstra University and worked as a production assistant at Comedy Central.

In addition to running Underworld, Sarno works as a set designer in the television industry and as a writer and director.

He and two Hofstra classmates created a four-episode 2019 comedy-drama set in the Hamptons called “Entitled” that’s available on Amazon Prime. Sarno also just wrapped production on a feature film he wrote and directed called “The Greatest,” about a suburban love triangle set in the 1950s.

Underworld comes along at a time when the film and TV industry on Long Island is growing.

The island offers a number of production facilities, such as Gold Coast Studios and Grumman Studios, both in Bethpage. Suffolk and Nassau counties each have their own office to attract movie and TV productions.

Likewise, numerous TV shows and movies have been filmed on Long Island, including the series “Dead Ringers,” “American Horror Story” and “Leave the World Behind.” All were filmed in Suffolk County.

“No Hard Feelings,” a new film starring Jennifer Lawrence, was filmed at Point Lookout. Several reality TV shows, including Bravo’s “Summer House,” have filmed in the Hamptons.

All this activity means film and TV production has become an important contributor to Suffolk County’s economy, says Diana Cherryholmes, director of Suffolk County’s Office of Film and Cultural Affairs.

“They’re taking hotel rooms, eating at diners, buying gas, shopping at the local grocery,” said Cherryholmes, adding that Patchogue and Town of Brookhaven officials have long been “film friendly.”

The island’s proximity to Manhattan and variety of locations—from beaches, to small-town Main Streets, to Gold Coast mansions like Huntington’s Oheka Castle—make Long Island an increasingly popular destination for filmmakers.

“We have pretty much everything other than mountains,” said Debra Markowitz, a writer-director and president of the Long Island Film/TV Foundation, which encourages film and television production on Long Island and runs the Long Island International Film Festival.

Big-budget studio films can afford to build any sets they need, said Markowitz, who started and ran Nassau County’s film office for more than 30 years. But for TV commercials and smaller-budget independent films, Long Island’s diversity of locations makes it especially attractive, she said.

Butt, the filmmaker, said having so many sets to choose from at Underworld meant he could film multiple scenes at the same location, reducing filming time and cost.

That Sarno is a filmmaker and set designer also helps, Butt said.

Sarno was able to line up several local crew members including a gaffer, sound technicians, and a makeup artist.

And his sets are filled with details that make them authentic.

“It’s a fully functioning soundstage,” Butt said. “But what really makes it is Ryan’s attention to detail. His design sense is crazy good.” 


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